ISEE vs SSAT

The ISEE and SSAT aptitude tests can be very confusing. We break down for parents the differences between them and how to choose which exam to take.

Subjects Covered

ISEE vs SSAT

What are ISEE & SSAT?

The ISEE is used for application to independent secondary schools in the United States. There are three levels of the ISEE depending on whether a student is applying for entrance to Grades 5/6, 7/8 or 9-12. The ISEE assesses verbal and quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, and mathematics. There is also an essay component that is sent to the schools to which a student is applying. The exam lasts between 2 hours and 20 minutes and 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The Secondary Schools Admissions Test (SSAT) is another examination that is used for application to secondary schools. It assesses the reading, writing, and mathematical skills of students. It is divided into two test types, lower and middle/upper, depending upon the age of the student.

These exams are excellent preparation for the SAT exams that students take in the 10th and 11th grade; indeed, many of our students have gone on to excel in the SATs. Read more about our ISEE and SSAT private tutoring options, our experience and approach, and about testing and measuring success.

ISEE vs SSAT - which to take?

The ISEE and SSAT are very similar and we're often asked what the difference is and what is the best exam for our students to take. The only definitive answer is you need to take the test the school you're applying to requires; you should double check this with the admission departments of your schools. There is no hard and fast rule for which schools require which exam, as they are free to choose whichever exam they choose. New York private day schools and boarding schools often prefer the SSAT; whilst other private schools often only accept ISEE; nonetheless many schools accept both.

If you're in the position of being able to choose between the two exams, it can seem a difficult choice between the two. There are subtle differences between the two and one or either may be slightly better for your child. We've prepared a short guide on the differences between the two exams to help you think about this decision. We find, amoungst our students, the ISEE is about twice as popular as the SSAT. Nonetheless, both tests are quite different to what most British children are used to. Both exams rely heavily on multiple choice style questions and are of a long duration. The 11+ and 13+ syllabii are quite similar, but the exam style (and thus exam strategies) are quite different.

Our Recommendation: The ISEE

Overall, most of our clients, opt take the ISEE. Most children are more comfortable taking the ISEE and it is probably slightly easier - unless you're very strong in maths. Nonetheless, it is very important you make sure you know what tests your potential new schools accept, your school may require one and not the other.

Verbal Questions - ISEE
Synonyms and sentence completion. Generally considered to be more straightforward than the SSAT verbal questions.
Verbal Questions - SSAT
Synonyms and analogies. Often more difficult than the ISEE. The anaolgy questions are generally considered to be hardest part of the SSAT
Verbal Questions - Our Verdict
ISEE. We recommend the ISEE for students who aren't particularly strong verbally. If you really can differentiate yourself verbally then consider the SSAT.
 
Math Questions - ISEE
4-choice multiple choice type questions. Some question formats can seem unfamiliar to students, and there are more numerical questions in the ISEE than the SSAT.
Math Questions - SSAT
5-choice multiple choice type questions. The SSAT math questions do get very hard - and even our best students find some of them tricky.
Math Questions - Our Verdict
Tie. We don't have a strong preference, there are more ISEE math questions, but there are always some very hard math questions in the SSAT.
 
Marking Questions - ISEE
Only positive marking. This can feel nicer and more gentle on students who struggle to deduce 'best guesses'.
Marking Questions - SSAT
Negative marking (-1/4 mark per wrong answer). Negative marking can really intimidate some students. But with practice and experience students get used to it.
Marking Questions - Our Verdict
ISEE. Negative marking is somewhat alien to most students in the British system. Our young students, in particular sometimes find it difficult to provide an answer unless they're 100% certain and negative marking can really throw them off

Functional differences between the ISEE and SSAT

Test Levels - ISEE
  • Primary Level: entrance to grades 2 - 4
  • Lower Level: entrance to grades 5 - 6
  • Middle Level: entrance to grades 7 - 8
  • Upper Level: entrance to grades 9 - 12
Test Levels - SSAT
  • Elementary Level: students currently in grades 3-4
  • Middle Level: students currently in grades 5-7
  • Upper Level: students currently in grades 8-12
 
Test Format, Length & Questions - ISEE
  • Primary Level: younger grades have a short listening section; 20-30 minute reading section; 20-30 minute math section; untimed writing sample; dependent on level c.1 hour total time plus unlimited writing time
  • Lower Level: 20 minute verbal reasoning section; 35 minute quantitative resasoning section; 25 minute reading comprehension section; 30 minute math achievement section; 30 minute essay; 2 hours 20 minutes total.
  • Middle and Upper Levels: 20 minute verbal reasoning section; 35 minute quantitative reasoning section; 35 minute reading comprehension section; 40 minute math achievement section; 30 minute essay; 2 hours 40 minutes total.
Test Format, Length & Questions - SSAT
  • Elementary Level: 30 minute quantative/math section; 20 minute verbal section; 15 minute break; 30 minute reading section; 15 minute writing sample; 1 hour 50 minutes total.
  • Middle and Upper Levels: 25 minute writing sample; 5 minute break; 30 minute quantitative section; 40 minute reading section; 10 minute break; 30 minute verbal section; 30 minute quantitative section; 15 minute experimental section; 3 hours 5 minutes total.
 
Further Reading - ISEE
Further Reading - SSAT

Selected ISEE & SSAT Testimonials

Please see below some example ISEE & SSAT Testimonials that we have received. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor guarantee or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more ISEE & SSAT Testimonials can be found on our dedicated testimonials page, where you can filter by subject.

ISEE | Emily Hennah

"Emily is lovely and [my son] really enjoys working with her" ... See Emily Hennah's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Thomas Evans

"Everything went well and I’m optimistic my daughter will get into both schools and then have their choice of where to go. Her ISEE results are in and they are strong." ... See Thomas Evans's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Wentworth Tutors Private Tutoring

"[The tutor] cleared all [my daughter's] doubts and reinforced her confidence in her ability to answer the questions and understand the techniques."

ISEE | Caitlin Rea

"You have captured our imagination with your methods ; I have to confess this was very much an eye opener for me, so much so that I have been inspired to learn more about what [student] knows and doesn't, how he copes and how you go about it.- From parent " ... See Caitlin Rea's tutoring profile.

SSAT/ISEE | Catriona Ramsay

"We are back from our US school trip. Everything went well and I’m optimistic the girls will get into both schools and then have their choice of where to go. Their ISEE results are in and they are strong (99th percentile and mostly stanine 9). Thanks so much for all your help." ... See Catriona Ramsay's tutoring profile.

Selected Profiles of our ISEE & SSAT Tutors

Please see below some example profiles of the ISEE & SSAT Tutors that we represent. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor selection criteria or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more ISEE & SSAT Tutor profiles can be found on our dedicated tutors page, where you can filter by subject.

I graduated from Cambridge University in 2015, where I studied Arabic and Spanish. Following graduation, I worked in a top boarding school in midtown Manhattan, New York supporting the students' preparation for SSAT/ISEE exams. On my return from the US, I began working for an educational charity in Cambridge, Red Balloon, which recovers severely bullied children who have self-excluded from mainstream education through a bespoke educational and therapeutic provision. Currently I am doing a social innovation graduate scheme, Year Here, I have introduced engaging new methods to support English language acquisition for participants of English Speakers for Other Languages (ESOL) courses at the Bromley by Bow community centre. Education has always been very important to me. My experiences above, in conjunction with teaching English to refugees in Jordan and supporting students in the US prepare for Spanish tests, leads me to having a broad understanding of education and the techniques that work for people of all levels. ...
I graduated from Cambridge University (Newnham College) with a 2:1 in Social Anthropology (and a 1st in Development Studies) in 2009. I have been tutoring private clients since 2005 in subjects ranging from English, Maths, English as foreign language, Interview Technique and Preparation, Test & Exam Preparation and Mentoring. However, my current focus and speciality is tutoring students for all levels of the ISEE and SSAT test. I have an excellent track record of increasing test scores and helping tutees to have the confidence and ability to achieve the grades required for their desired schools whilst also acting as a mentor throughout the preparation process. ...
I’m a postgraduate medical student at King’s College London and Bristol University graduate with a passion for a wide range of subjects. Studying humanities to A level, focusing on crop genetics during my undergraduate degree and now working to become a doctor translates well into tutoring a varied curriculum and ensures I’ve had plenty of experience in the process of learning. I'm an enthusiastic tutor; effective tutoring raises children’s confidence and gives them skills which they can take far beyond our sessions, which is my favourite aspect of the job. ...
My passion for tutoring stems from my own personal experience with understanding the impact that excellent teachers can have on our lives. At Winchester College, the leadership and inspiration of my teachers motivated me to succeed, and is reflected in my consistently strong academic record. Having now graduated with a First Class BA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and successfully completed an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London, I am keen to share my understanding and passion of the sciences and mathematics with new students. ...
I went to both a Grammar school and Millfield boarding school where I achieved my GCSE's and A-levels (Maths, Chemistry, Biology, Geography). In my final year at Millfield I sat the SAT and SAT II (Math & Biology) exams and went on to study Neurobiology at Harvard College. After completing my undergraduate degree, I am now studying graduate medicine at Kings College London. Before starting my second degree I went to China where I worked as a teacher and as an Education consultant. I have been working for Wentworth for over a year now, mainly focusing on the ISEE and SAT exams. ...